A couple of days ago my dear and long-time friend, Caroline Mair, wrote a critical piece for the Trinidad Guardian titled “Climate Change, Refugees, and Migration.” Written from her outpost in London, the article both globalizes and personalizes the devastating effects that climate change can bring. Mair points to Syria and notes how years of drought exacerbated the political and civilian tensions that strengthened terrorists and created refugees, such that every-day people were forced out of their home country and across Europe. (Indeed as I prepare this post, Syrian refugees are arriving in Canada seeking a better life.) Mair also points to Trinidad, her own homeland, and highlights the damaging climate change reality for small islands as well. With rising sea-levels and the unpredictable powerful hurricanes that have been occurring with greater frequency, do we need much more proof that climate change is real and not fiction?
It is understood that droughts lead to water scarcity and food shortages; however, some politically right critics (see this Breitbart News piece) have debated the likelihood that climate change had any part in the rise of the Islamic State and the Syrian refugee crisis. Moreover, some critics wholly deny that there is a climate change problem at all (see this evangelical piece recently posted to The Gleaner). Yet no one will deny that the lack of basic sustenance can lead to civil unrest, political instability, and breed fertile ground for an upswing in violence.
With this I cannot help but think of my Jamaica, which is the same Jamaica that Marlon James fictionalizes in his Man Booker prize winning novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014). The hefty novel that swirls around the 1976 attempted murder of Bob Marley is drenched in violence of every order. But why such violence? The novel discloses many of those reasons so I will not spoil anything for those planning to read the 600+ page book, but I will point out that Jamaica is familiar with drought, food shortages, water scarcity, and violent upswings. Perhaps it should not be discounted that, according to Monitoring and Predicting Agricultural Drought: A Global Study Jamaica’s Sugar Industry Research Institute reported that “disastrous droughts occurred in 1976” (2005: 151). On the heels of an oil crisis that toppled the nation, economic instability, warring political camps, a rise in gang lords, the influx of firearms, and an exodus of able Jamaicans seeking safer shores, there were also severe agricultural droughts. The sharp rise in violent crime in Jamaica in 1976 is fictionalized by Marlon James but, reality informs fiction and it is a long time now that Bob Marley has warned: “a hungry man is an angry man.”
As the COP21 Climate Conference continues to work through the details, the world waits. We wait to see what the “50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society” of 150 nations have decided is the way to lessen our devastation on the planet. To curb the irreversible damage caused by our own modernity, the developed world ought to pay the polluter’s share. I agree with Caroline Mair’s article in The Guardian and I agree with COP21 attendee Adriano Campolina of the South African based NGO ActionAid, who offered the following statement in the minutes before today’s discussions drew to a close: “Rich countries have a responsibility to ensure a fair global deal for everyone, not just themselves, and as we move into these final hours of negotiations poorer countries must not settle for anything less.” Because if severe droughts had anything to do with the menacing violence of 1976 Jamaica, or the more contemporary crisis in Syria, we would be a world of fools not to do better. I sincerely hope that COP21 will effect change.